Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellations and the Orders of Love

by Dale Schusterman

• What if a man’s drug addiction were really a search for connection with his father?

• Suppose a suicidal woman was unconsciously trying to follow the fate of her aunt who had died at age two many years before the woman was born.

• What if a woman’s breast cancer were rooted in a loss of connection to her mother or to her mother’s mother?

• What if her cancer was a hidden desire to follow another family member who died of cancer?

• Why do people who adopt children often end up divorcing or losing all intimacy in their marriage?

• What if a man can’t form enduring relationships with women because his unconscious loyalty to his mother and father dictates otherwise?

• Suppose a person’s chronic low back pain actually represents a need to show respect to another family member, usually their mother or father.

• What effect does childhood abuse have on future relationships, success, health?

• What if the guilt a person feels really belongs to someone in a previous generation who was unable to deal with his or her own guilt?

All of these situations represent possible hidden dynamics in people’s family systems that may unconsciously drive them toward the problem that they have. It should be understood that many different scenarios are possible for any condition and that these are merely a few examples. Obviously cancer, for example, has many physical causes, but there are usually hidden family dynamics that are operating as well.

It is these hidden family dynamics that Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellations, the hallmark of his approach, reveal. He has observed that there is an order to the way love flows in relationships and when that order is disrupted, it is often family members in subsequent generations who experience the consequences of this disruption. They unconsciously take on these consequences unknowingly integrating them into their lives, often with detrimental results.

Through the Family Constellation, a person is shown the true origin of the stated problem and new opportunities for disentanglement and resolution. The client can see and feel love flowing again in his or her family system and will no longer have to sacrifice personal health or well-being.

The work of Bert Hellinger is changing the world one family at a time. A former priest who became a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, Hellinger has developed a unique, highly effective method to help people resolve their entanglements with the difficult fates of family members in this and preceding generations.
Bert Hellinger draws from many sources to synthesize his special methods, but the result is a refreshing new look at the causes and resolutions of many kinds of illness. The perspectives he offers, sometimes contrary to those found in mainstream psychology, resonate powerfully in the souls of the individuals with whom he works which can be immediately seen and felt by them and those observing.

Hellinger, now in his eighties, has spent the last several years traveling the world teaching and demonstrating Family Constellations, the Orders of Love, and Movements of the Soul to thousands of people. In his native Germany, as well as in the rest of Europe, he is very well known. He has numerous published books, articles, and videotapes of his workshops. He now has six books and over 20 videotapes in English of workshops that demonstrate his intriguing brand of Family System Therapy.

Family Constellations
The key modality in this work is the Family Constellation, which is used to investigate the patterns operating in a client’s family system. A family system consists of the client, plus his or her:

• children

• spouse

• siblings

• parents

• siblings of parents

• grandparents

• siblings of the grandparents

• former partners of the parents and grandparent

Also, anyone who suffered so that the family might gain in some way becomes connected to the system. For instance, if a family business took great advantage of its employees, there would be an unconscious need to resolve this injustice by those in following generations. The constellation reveals the hidden dynamics at work within this group of people that are affecting the client.

Once the client’s issue is determined, he/she is asked to pick people from the group to be representatives for various family members. Relevant family members chosen may be from this or previous generations, alive or dead. The client then places the representatives in spatial relationship to each other.

Afterwards, the client sits down and watches the constellation with the facilitator. This is the usual procedure, but the facilitator may choose another course if the constellation or client seems to warrant it. The constellation is given time to develop.

Interestingly, what now happens is that the representatives of the client’s family members begin to have feelings, inner knowing, and bodily sensations that are not wholly their own, but that relate to the persons they represent. Sometimes the feelings are merely those of feeling good or not so good, connected or not connected to the others. Sometimes the feelings are vague, but at other times they are quite specific and intense. In one case, a man temporarily lost his hearing in one ear and it turned out that the person he represented was actually deaf in the same ear.

The facilitator may ask the participants how they feel, move them to different places, and have them say certain sentences in order to demonstrate and resolve the hidden dynamic operating within a family system or to gently “push” the picture further in order to reveal deeper levels of experience.

Rituals are often employed. These are not rote rituals, but ones that evolve out of the constellation. Sometimes, one person bows deeply before another to give the respect that was missing in the relationship. When this is done, the other participants profoundly feel the effects of this action.

Often the facilitator will place representatives for parents, grandparents and even great grandparents in a line behind a representative. Each one places his or her hands on the shoulders of the descendent in front of them. This brings the representative a feeling of tremendous strength and empowerment.

When dealing with the dead, a facilitator may ask a representative to lie on the ground to represent the deceased. The grieving parent or spouse may spontaneously kneel or lie at the side of their loved one. This is not body sculpture, but the natural movements of the soul enacted in the body towards the resolution of an issue.

The constellation becomes a “picture” for the client’s soul to observe. Often, representatives for other members of the family are brought into the constellation so that love can be reestablished in areas that have lost that connection. If possible, the facilitator restores the harmonious flow of love and dignity among the various family members and releases the client’s representative from identifying with the difficult fates of predecessors.

The goal of the constellation is to show the client a resolution picture of the family system, a new way to image one’s self and the family dynamics. Often at the end of the constellation, the client is allowed to stand in his or her own place to experience the balanced family system. The client may experience immediate change as a result of the constellation or it may take some time for these very deeply ingrained patterns to work themselves out. In either case, it is left to the client to take the patterns revealed in the constellation and let them unfold naturally within the soul.

This way of working is phenomenological in nature. Hellinger works with what he observes in the constellation. While there are certain patterns that are often observed, each situation is different and the dynamics of each constellation must be uncovered anew. Clients are often surprised to see the dynamic that is operating within their family system and the resolution is often a “surprise” as well. Sometimes even years of psychotherapy won’t totally reveal the true origins of a person’s issue, much less the resolution. In fact, the focus on pathology may very well keep clients bonded to their problems, rather than moved toward a solution.

A New Approach.
Many of the techniques that Hellinger uses have been around for some time, but his synthesis of them is quite new. His knowledge of the Orders of Love that operate in relationships and his understanding of the different levels of conscience that bind us to our family system makes this a powerful approach for healing. Most therapies seek to heal or in some way help the individual client. However, if the problem has nothing directly to do with the client other than the fact that he or she belongs to a certain family, the therapy may never offer real insight.

Take, for example, a client who is unconsciously identified with the fate of a grandmother who died in childbirth. This client might be suffering from infertility or have difficulties with intimacy, and these issues might have some ties to the fate of the grandmother. Although medical therapy and psychotherapy would certainly be important here, addressing the deep, hidden identification with the family tragedy can also be a central but often missing piece in the healing equation.

If on the unconscious level a client believes that belonging to the family requires that he or she have a health problem, it is hard to get a full healing without addressing this inaccurate perception. On the other hand, there is no reason for the client to continue with the problem once the past tragedy is viewed, honored and placed in proper perspective. Both the client and the person with whom he or she is identified, in this case, the grandmother, can now take their rightful places in the family with honor and dignity.

Most importantly, the constellation reveals a picture of the dynamic operating within the client’s family system and hopefully a picture of a resolution for that dynamic. Often, the revelation of the pathologic dynamic operating in the family system is, by itself, enough to initiate a resolution of the problem.

The client is not told what to do or how to resolve the problem. The client’s job is to discover within their own soul the next steps, based on the new revelations. The challenging task, perhaps and the most profound is for the client to sit with the images of the constellation and let a natural unfolding occur as a result.

© 2003 by Dale Schusterman, All Rights Reserved

This article is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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